Experiences following a suicide attempt

Graham, Anne Carolyn (2012) Experiences following a suicide attempt. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


A suicide attempt is a very significant and usually disturbing event for the person who makes the attempt, for his or her family, and for clinicians who respond. Moreover, epidemiological studies have established that a suicide attempt is associated with an increased risk of subsequent attempt or suicide, suggesting that understanding more about experiences following a suicide attempt may have implications for prevention. Yet, despite calls for more qualitative research in the field, there have been few studies investigating these experiences. This thesis reports on a qualitative research study in which adults who had made a suicide attempt were interviewed about their experiences following the attempt. Lethality of suicide attempts varied but was within the moderate to severe range of medical seriousness. Ten participants (eight women and two men, aged 28 to 52) were asked about the nature of the suicide attempt, their personal experiences in the period that followed, their interactions with family and friends, and their experiences of clinical services. Findings support theorising a suicide attempt as trauma, with core experiences of loss of control, helplessness, disconnection from others, shame, guilt and humiliation. Movement from helplessness and disempowerment toward a sense of agency and control, and from disconnection and aloneness to repaired relationships were crucial aspects of the recovery process,. Analysis of interactions with family and friends noted the significance of sustained relationships and support, while also identifying a pattern of reciprocal recoil from the horror of the suicidal crisis and mutual silences aimed at protection of self and other, followed by efforts to repair ruptures in relationships. Experience of significant losses characterised the period following the suicide attempt. Respect and being taken seriously vs humiliation, blame or indifference was the overarching theme in relation to experiences with clinical services. Collaborative decision-making in the clinical setting was experienced as central to overcoming helplessness and regaining a sense of agency. Psychotherapy was valued for containing distress and/or working through underlying issues. Recommendations for practice are presented, while acknowledging the limitations of the study.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/25827
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1701 Psychology
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Keywords suicide, suicidality, epidemiology, phenomenology, life course, relationships, inner life, external world, clinical services, recovery
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